I'm editing a fantasy novel that includes slavery -or the relatively new introduction of slavery. I feel the practical complications of slavery, moral and economic, have been overlooked.


  1. Can anyone recommend an essay where this (slavery/sf) is discussed? Link to pass on to the client would be very helpful.

  2. My objections are listed below. What others can you think of?

realistic to world-building

a- Who benefits from the slave trade? What are the costs? How is it enforced?
b- Is it geographically viable? In a land-locked area, what is to stop someone from going home once unshackled?
c- Is there organized resistance? By whom? How?

Conscious of the impact on readers and publishers

d- Is it gratuitous?
e- Is it racially insensitive or relying on biased cliches?
f- How to "flip the script"?

Other points would be helpful and welcome.

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    $\begingroup$ While I think there is the core of an excellent question here, I worry that at the moment it is too broad, and too unfocused. It might be worth speaking in chat or trying the sandbox to try and refine it. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Jan 23 '18 at 11:16
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    $\begingroup$ Slavery or serfdom? The latter is more common during the Middle Ages, which is often the reference period for sword & sorcery fiction. $\endgroup$
    – NofP
    Jan 23 '18 at 11:21
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    $\begingroup$ By the way, if you are thinking about slavery, have you checked the link section of the most obvious place? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery#Characteristics $\endgroup$
    – NofP
    Jan 23 '18 at 11:27
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you, NofP. I scoured wikipedia and sent links about Middle Passage/Slave Trade to explain why it made more sense for ruthless entrepreneurs to engage in human trafficking than agents of the King considering the high cost in human lives (overcrowding, disease, suicide). Also asking soldiers to raid villages for more soldiers only is viable if you burn the village to the ground. IMHO. $\endgroup$ Jan 23 '18 at 11:44
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    $\begingroup$ There are two kinds of markdown lists - a numbered and an unnumbered one. Both need one empty line above the start of the list. The numbered one can be done by adding "1. " at the beginning of a line. The other needs "- " at the beginning of the line. And you can notify other users with an "@" in front of their name. One additional user can be notified per comment and the OP is always notified. The mentioned chat can be found here. $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Jan 23 '18 at 11:55

I'm not aware of any essay where slavery in a fantasy world is discussed, but discussions about real slavery in history (and current days) are aplenty.

I would like to point out "slavery" actually covers practices very different and with very different moral/economic impact.

Classic world (think "Romans") slavery was a direct result of conquers: along with other "prey", legions came back with a number of slaves; these were not "inferior beasts", but simply someone who had misfortune of losing a war. It was very common to have "manumission" which gave the slave back the freedom and, in certain cases even citizenship.

Very similar was "debt slavery", where debtor became property of the owner of the debt for the time needed to cancel it (sometimes the whole life).

Very different was "nigger" deportation; I knowingly used this "non politically correct" (and sometimes offensive) word to stress the fact slaves were considered as animals having little sentiment and no rights; this is vastly different from the above.

In all cases there were efficient methods to enforce slavery; a runaway slave was treated just a bit worse than a deserter in a war. In classical times there have been several "servile wars" where all rioters were executed (often in a crude way).

In most cases slavery was accepted as "a fact of life" even by the slaves who, for the great majority, were treated "humanly" (i.e.: were not much worse off than neighboring "free" guy); again, this seems different in (relatively) recent American (and not only) slavery.

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    $\begingroup$ +1. Some sources say that at Rome a slavewoman had about 2 chances in 3 to be eventually set free, and a slaveman about 1 in 2. When set free, they became citizens and were associated with the family of their former master. It was not at all uncommon for a Roman man to set free his slavewoman in order to marry her ("manumissio matrimonii causa"). Slaves born in house ("vernae", from "verna", hearth) were almost certain to be manumitted eventually. It was usual for the master and slave to negotiate a price, with the slave encouraged to find paid work outside the home to get the money... $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 23 '18 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ If you are from Italy, ZioByte, then you probably shouldn't use that word without a bit more context of what it means in the US. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Jan 23 '18 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ @kingledion: I did that on (possibly misguided) purpose. What happened a couple of centuries ago was exactly where and how that "bad word" originated and I wanted to stress fact those "nice people" organizing "group tours" from Africa to America did not have a high consideration for their "non-paying customers". Please fee free to edit my answer if you think that's necessary, I surely won't object. $\endgroup$
    – ZioByte
    Jan 23 '18 at 17:03

A lot of information on slavery focuses on either the Colonial Americas or ancient Rome. There were plenty of other societies with lots of slavery. Wikipedia has plenty of information.

In particular, most of those links have extensive Bibliographies to check out. If you (or your friend) are doing research for a book, I would recommend more research than just the internet.


This article outlines the imperial slave economy that arose with European colonization expansion. This site discusses slavery in America.

Slavery has been a fact of life throughout history, and no race has been left untouched by its shackles. When the colonies were first being settled, labor was hard to come by, and it was procured any way possible. For some, it was through indentured servitude. For others, it was through slavery.

Colonial societies often extracted from indentured labour, where people are often paying off their debts with their labour, convictions, for example, in the 18th century the Thirteen Colonies received over 50,00 convicts, and, of course, slavery.

These sources are offered as beginnings on a journey to discover more about the economy of slavery. Good luck!


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